Many county and local justice systems receive large numbers of people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders revolving through their doors. Not only do these repeat visits lead to increased populations and costs for already cash-strapped systems, individuals pay a price, missing opportunities to receive treatment.

Let’s take a look at the facts:

  • Twelve million people cycle through local jails every year. Out of this group, 64 percent of jail inmates suffer from a mental illness.
  • 63 percent of men and 75 percent of women in local prisons present with at least one mental health problem and at least 83 percent of these individuals do not have access to much-needed treatment.
  • 86 percent of inmates abuse or depend on drugs, yet only 15 percent receive substance use treatment.
  • On average, it costs $30,000 to care for these individuals annually–more than three times what it costs for someone without mental illness or history of substance use.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by numbers like these. Jail populations are growing, requirements create obstacles to obtaining much-needed services and care, funding continues to decrease – what is a county to do? Addressing the issue at a county level may seem insurmountable, but it’s possible – and essential for the success of the county and the individuals involved.

How is a county to tackle it?

Leverage relationships and connections with service agencies across your county. Many entities need to align to provide care for individuals, such as jail administrators, judges, corrections professionals and mental health and substance use treatment providers. Each agency has their own seat at the table and it’s important to know the value they can bring to providing support to an individual.

Work with these organizations to develop a plan that allows the entities involved to take action, making most of the budgets and shared resources available. Determine what paths individuals can take to get the mental health or substance use care they need to get them on the right track to avoid recidivism.

Utilize technology to help maximize access to an individual’s record for all parties involved to facilitate services that address their needs. Making digital connections between corrections facilities and behavioral health providers creates seamless care coordination between all organizations involved. There are many ways to work collaboratively to enable timely sharing of information, allowing everyone to contribute relevant data to make the best care decisions possible. As an individual travels through their care journey, they benefit when clinicians have a window into their physical and behavioral health history.  Access to a complete health record allows providers to take care of the underlying behavioral health issue before an individual finds himself or herself back in custody.

Delivering orchestrated services between organizations can ultimately result in reduced costs by decreasing the recidivism rate among this population. When correctional facilities provide mental illness support to individuals, the chances of the individual being re-arrested drops dramatically from 40 – 60 percent to 10 percent or lower.

There’s a better way to serve individuals who find themselves cycling in and out of prison. Not only do repeat offenders create increased costs for counties, but they’re also paying a personal toll on their lives and the lives of individuals who care about them. In 2007, substance use and addiction cost the U.S. a whopping $200 billion. Stopping the revolving door can ultimately create savings for the administration and provide a better quality of life for the individual affected.

Counties and local justice systems must work to get a grasp on the situation in order to benefit. The longer an individual continues on a path of repeated incarcerations, costs will only continue to rise. With 40 percent of individuals returning to state prisons within the first three years after their release, there will be little to no relief in sight for justice systems that don’t take pre-emptive action to manage these individuals effectively.

Taking the steps to implement this type of approach may seem daunting, but the results it creates for everyone involved is worth it. Begin the conversation with key stakeholders and service providers in the state and county. Create an open dialogue about how your organizations can work together to help reduce the amount of individuals incarcerated and what you can do to reduce the chances of reoffending.

Ready to learn more? Check out our webinar with Johnson County, Kansas, where they share their story about how they are implementing NACo’s Stepping Up Initiative through integrating technology to provide value-based care into their county health and justice system.